Tom Lonnberg is a man of history. The curator of history at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science has an intimate relationship with local heritage.
“I always was interested in history since I was a kid, so that became my undergrad major, and then at graduate school I had the opportunity to intern at the William Hammond Mathers Museum in Bloomington, Indiana,” he says.
Born in Anderson, Indiana, Lonnberg moved to Posey County, Indiana, at an early age. After completing his undergraduate studies at Indiana State University Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana) and graduate work at Indiana University, Bloomington, Lonnberg found himself presented with an opportunity in Evansville — a job as the first history professional at the Evansville Museum.
He is passionate about sharing Evansville’s history with the general public. Lonnberg has organized a wide range of exhibits over the course of his 29-year career, focusing on topics from Ohio River history to Evansville’s valiant participation in the Vietnam War and World War II. These exhibits have honored those who served in the wars and those who worked on the homefront in plants serving the military cause.
Evansville Living: What were your main objectives when you started as history curator?
Tom Lonnberg: I wanted to emphasize more of what made Evansville special and its history. Many of the exhibits throughout the years have been topical of Evansville, bringing a greater understanding of the city’s past.
EL: What is your biggest achievement since arriving at the museum?
TL: That would be the Evansville Museum Transportation Center Project that has been here several years now. It opened in 1999, but in the mid-90s we started on that project, building a separate building to interpret Evansville’s early transportation history and provide a new home for the museum’s train. That was one of my major projects as far as the interpretation and building — from the brick and mortar phases, but also to deciding what exhibits to stage. That was certainly a very important project for me.
EL: What has been your favorite exhibit at the museum?
TL: I think one of my favorites was an exhibit about a guy named Frank Kramer. It was one of my favorites for a few reasons, one of which was I didn’t know who Frank Kramer was until I did the exhibit. A community person asked me, “Do you know about Frank Kramer? He was a champion bicyclist back in the early 20th century and he lived in Evansville in his younger life.” It was suggested we might look into doing an exhibit about Kramer. At that point, the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame was in Somerville, New Jersey, and they had an exhibit on him. So I traveled with the museum’s registrar to New Jersey and looked at their stuff, then literally got in a Ryder truck and hauled things back here for this exhibit about Kramer. It was interesting because no one really knew about him. He was one of the highest-paid athletes of his time, extremely successful; he won multiple national and one world championship.
EL: What is in store for the future of the history collection at the museum?
TL: We are looking at that right now. We would like to move forward to interpreting, on a permanent basis, more of Evansville’s past. We do that rather regularly in changing exhibits and displays that are here for three or four months, built in-house, and changed to something else. But we’d like to interpret Evansville more wholly on an ongoing basis through long-term exhibits that can be enjoyed here for many years.
For more information about the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science, visit evansvillemuseum.org.